These days some who attempt to justify or commend homosexual behavior attempt to enlist Jesus as their ally. They suggest He may not have been opposed to homosexual behavior because “Jesus did not say anything against homosexuality.”
It is true that the New Testament does not record Jesus saying anything explicitly about homosexuality or about homosexual behavior. Therefore, it is also true that Jesus does not explicitly condemn homosexuality or homosexual behavior. Yet it also means that Jesus never explicitly commends, advocates, or justifies homosexuality or homosexual behavior.
People prove far too willing to impose their own views and understandings in matters and places where Jesus was silent. We must be on our guard lest we fall into this temptation. Nevertheless, from a careful investigation in the New Testament we can come to an understanding of how Jesus views homosexual behavior.
Jesus was born, lived, and died as a first century Palestinian Jew, under the Law of Moses, and affirmed its inspiration and value. In order to establish a new covenant Jesus first had to fulfill the Law of Moses, and did so by living according to it and upholding it in His life (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus castigated those who taught in ways which would relax observance of the Law of Moses and commended those who affirmed and observed the whole of the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:19-20). The Law of Moses explicitly and specifically condemned homosexual behavior as sinful (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). Therefore, in order to uphold the Law of Moses, Jesus would have recognized homosexual behavior as being sinful.
Jesus’ sexual ethics were even stricter than those in the Law of Moses, not looser, and are rooted in the creation. The Law of Moses allowed for divorce for all sorts of reasons (Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Matthew 19:8). In Matthew 19:4-6, 9, Jesus repudiates all reasons save for porneia, sexually deviant behavior, on account of God’s purposes for marriage as established in the creation: God made them male and female, and a man shall leave father and mother and cling to his wife, the two become one flesh, and what God has joined man is not to separate (cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:24). Jesus speaks of marriage as taking place between a man and a woman, according to the way God created people, and that God is the one who joins a man and a woman in marriage, and man is not to separate that union. There is no similar declaration suggesting that God would join two men or two women together; there is no room to force same sex relationships into the statements Jesus made. Jesus does not relax the sexual ethics of the Law of Moses; in fact, He demands from His followers an even stricter standard (the forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 is based on her repentance and her no longer sinning in that way; Jesus never justified her behavior). We have no reason to believe that Jesus would maintain a more lax standard in regards to homosexual behavior when elsewhere His standard is the same as or even stricter than the Law of Moses.
Homosexual behavior would be condemned under porneia. As mentioned above Jesus did make one exception for divorce: if the spouse committed porneia, translated variously as “fornication” or “sexual immorality” (Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18). Jesus condemns the porneia that comes out of people’s heart in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21. Porneia, literally, is that which is done with a porne, a prostitute, of which there were both male and female in the ancient world (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:13-20); the word thus involves sexually deviant behavior. While the term does involve more than homosexual behavior, homosexual behavior is included within the parameters of porneia (cf. Jude 1:7 -> Genesis 19:5). Jesus, therefore, condemned porneia, sexually deviant behavior, which includes homosexual behavior, and He does not provide any caveats or exceptions that would somehow commend or excuse homosexual behavior.
Jesus’ chosen representatives who spoke on His behalf condemned homosexual behavior. Jesus chose men who saw Him in His resurrection to go and proclaim His message to the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 9:4-6, 15-16). According to the New Testament Jesus spoke and worked through them to advance His Kingdom (Acts 1:1, 8). Among such men both Paul and Jude explicitly condemn homosexual behavior among both men and women (Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Jude 1:7). Jesus spoke through these men and there is nothing which suggests that they misunderstood Him or distorted His teachings in regard to homosexual behavior in any way.
While Jesus may not have explicitly addressed homosexual behavior, all of the evidence from the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus would have considered such behavior to be sinful. Jesus likewise considered many other behaviors, including many heterosexual behaviors, to be equally sinful, and provided through His death and resurrection the means by which everyone could be forgiven of their sins and be saved (Matthew 19:3-9, John 3:16). Some early Christians had participated in homosexual behavior yet repented of their sins and found cleansing, justification, and sanctification through God in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). It may not be popular in culture, and it may conflict with the way many would like to see Jesus, but the witness of the New Testament about Jesus is clear: He considered homosexual behavior to be sinful. Let us affirm Jesus’ sexual ethics and live by them!
Ethan R. Longhenry